Main minorities and indigenous peoples: Baganda 5,555,319 (16.5 per cent), Banyankore (Bahima and Bairu) 3,216,332 (9.6 per cent), Basoga 2,960,890 (8.8 per cent), Bakiga 2,390,446 (7.1 per cent), Iteso 2,364,569 (7.0 per cent), Langi 2,131,495 (6.3 per cent), Banyarwanda (Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa – the latter also listed here separately) 524,098 (1.6 per cent), Acholi 1,470,554 (4.4 per cent), Bagisu 1,646,904 (4.9 per cent) and Lugbara 1,099,733 (3.3 per cent), Batoro 810,708 (2.4 per cent), Bunyoro 966,976 (2.8 per cent, though Bunyoro have challenged this figure), Alur 878,453 (2.6 per cent), Bagwere 621,150 (1.8 per cent), Bakonzo 850,646 (2.5 per cent), Jopadhola 481,816 (1.4 per cent), Karamojong 371,713 (1.1 per cent), Barundi 92,570 (0.3 per cent), Basongora 15,897 (0.05 per cent) and Batwa 6,200 (0.02 per cent).
Main languages: English (official); numerous local languages; Swahili is used among some communities, especially those bordering Kenya and Sudan.
Main religions: Roman Catholics 13,407,764 (39.3 per cent), Anglicans 10,941,268 (32.0 per cent), Islam 4,663,204 (13.7 per cent), Pentecostals 3,790,564 (11.1 per cent), Seventh Day Adventists 590,257 (1.5 per cent), Indigenous beliefs 33,805 (0.1 per cent), others including Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews and Baha’i.
Uganda is a country of very great ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity, whose roots lie in a complex early history of overlapping migrations and interactions. Gross abuses of human rights, with a considerable ethnic dimension, took place under the Amin, Obote and Okello regimes of the 1970s and 1980s. Although more recent years have seen a degree of comparative stability, the legacy of these conflicts remains a powerful mobilizing factor in Ugandan politics. Driving forces behind the conflicts have been complex and multi-faceted; economic, religious, ideological and regional aspects have all been significant. In addition to the unstable and overlapping nature of ethnic categories, conflicts have themselves featured a variety of complex alliances.
For the sake of simplicity, Uganda’s major linguistic groupings may be summarized as follows.
- Speakers of Bantu languages, who are largely agriculturalists, living principally in the south and west of the country, comprise about two-thirds of the population. Historically they include centralized societies governed by royal families (Baganda, Banyankole, Banyoro, Batoro), as well as many others with less elaborate hierarchies, including the Bakiga, Bafumbira, Bakonjo, Basongora, Batuku, Banyabindi, Banyaruguru and Batwa. In parts of Western Uganda two pastoralist groups (Bahima and Batutsi) established ascendancy over the agriculturalist communities (Bairu and Bahutu) among whom they settled and whose languages they share. The Batutsi population in Uganda surged during the genocide in Rwanda, but many Batutsi have subsequently returned. Other Bantu pastoralist groups include the Basongora and Batuku.
- Speakers of Western Nilotic languages in Northern Uganda, traditionally agriculturalists organized in chiefdoms, include the Acholi, Langi, Alur and Jonam tribal groups.
- Speakers of Eastern Nilotic languages, primarily in Eastern Uganda, include Karamojong and Iteso (as well as Kakwa in the north-west). Traditionally pastoralists, they have a social organization that is based on clans and age sets. Karamojong are generally nomadic pastoralist, but a few ethnic clans (sub-groups) are agriculturalists.
- Central Sudanic-speakers such as the Lugbara and Madi inhabit the far north-west of Uganda (as well as neighbouring regions of Sudan and the DRC); traditionally they are agricultural peoples with a non-hierarchic social organization.
Baganda and other Bantu-speakers
Collectively Ugandan Bantu-speakers comprise the majority of the population. Under the northerner-dominated governments of 1962-86 they suffered varying hardships which during the second Obote regime culminated in the Luwero triangle massacres. Such circumstances could return only if Uganda were once again seriously destabilized and the current regime replaced.
Despite its ideological opposition to ethnically based institutions, the government has permitted the re-establishment of the Baganda (1992), Batoro (1993) and Banyoro (1994) monarchies with largely symbolic status–a guarded attempt to accommodate ethnic sentiment. President Museveni has often been able to count on political support from Baganda and other Bantu speakers, which may explain his cautious concessions on symbolic ethnic issues. Yet as these groups began advocating in the mid-1990s for a federalization of Uganda that would give them greater autonomy, that political relationship came under strain. Meanwhile, some small chiefdoms that were part of the bigger monarchies, such as the Bakokio, Baluri, Lo, Japhdola, Alur and Ateso, have since re-asserted their individual identities.
Tensions between the NRA and many predominantly Muslim inhabitants of the north-west of the country have eased since the end of 2002, although discrimination and mistrust remain. Much of the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF), a militia derived from the Amin-era army and largely consisting of Lugbara and Nubian members, demobilized when Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986. UNRF leader Moses Ali has filled several senior government positions in Museveni’s governments since 1986, with a two-year gap from 1990-2 when he was detained on treason charges. While 1,000 members of the small UNRF had laid down their arms in 1986, another faction, UNRF II, remained active (often in Sudan rather than Uganda), causing friction between those of Lugbara and Nubian ethnicity and the authorities, persisting human rights abuses by the army, and a spirit of alienation similar to elsewhere in Northern Uganda. UNRF II enjoyed Sudanese government support in retaliation for Museveni’s support of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. In December 2002, following five years of negotiations, the 2,000 UNRF II rebels agreed to end the conflict in exchange for 700 of them being taken into the Ugandan army and the rest receiving demobilization and resettlement benefits. Because of their past affiliation with Amin, Lugbara and Nubian groups still face implicit discrimination on ethnic and religious grounds in employment, and sometimes hide their identities to find work. Meanwhile, Lugbara and Nubian civilians have faced attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army, another rebel movement backed by Khartoum.
Bairu, Bahutu, Bakiga, Bahima and Batutsi
Although Bantu-speakers, Bairu and Bahutu have traditionally been in a position subordinate to the pastoralist groups who inhabit the same areas, the Bahima and Batutsi. Bakiga are in a similar situation to Bahutu, to whom they are closely related. Many Bairu were sympathetic to Obote and opposed to Museveni, a Muhima. Bahutu – those who did not leave for Rwanda in the early 1980s – were mistrusted by Batutsi following the Rwandan genocide and wary of the alliance between Uganda and the post-genocide Rwandan government. However, despite the earlier involvement of many Batutsi with the NRA, their position in Uganda remains somewhat precarious, the defection of Batutsi from the NRA to the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) from 1990 greatly increasing this insecurity. Though an estimated 700,000 Batutsi moved to Rwanda following the RPA victory, others remained in Uganda. In view of the unresolved regional conflicts the position of all these groups must be considered vulnerable.
Ugandan Asians expelled by Amin in 1972 have been able in recent years to submit claims for the repossession of their confiscated property, a major incentive for their return, though only some are interested in doing so. Asians have benefited from the comparative stability, improved human rights, and official disavowal of ethnically based politics. But the unpopularity generated by their privileged economic position and their apparent segregation from other communities in the country could easily make them vulnerable once again if instability returns.
While Uganda has long acknowledged the diversity of its population, with around 65 distinct communities now officially recognized, profound inequalities continue to affect many groups. For Uganda’s indigenous peoples, who are not specifically recognized as such, the experience of marginalization has been similar to that of many other communities across Africa and the globe. Land loss over the decades has led to loss of cultural continuity, lack of political representation, deepening poverty, and negative health and educational outcomes. This is in a wider context where civil society groups, political opposition members and journalists continue to be at risk of repression by authorities, with Yoweri Musevini installed as President since 1986: a 2017 Constitutional amendment remove the 75-year age limit for the presidency that would have prevented Musevini from remaining in power.
In particular, Batwa forest-dwelling people have been severely negatively affected over the decades by the loss of their traditional ancestral lands in the equatorial forests of Western Uganda. Beginning in the 1930s, Batwa territory was systematically converted into conservation areas. By the 1990s, the government of Uganda had converted the Batwa forest homelands into national parks and evicted the community from their forest dwellings. Since that time, the community has been existing on the edges of Ugandan society, surviving as squatters on other communities’ land and slipping into generational cycles of poverty. Moreover, Batwa are negatively stereotyped and discriminated against in Ugandan society, making integration into Ugandan social and political life as well as progress out of poverty extremely challenging.
Other forest dwellers in Uganda include Benet, also known as Ogiek, living on the forested slopes of Mount Elgon along the border with Kenya. Benet were displaced from their traditional territories as a result of the creation of Mount Elgon National Park and conflict with other communities. After ongoing evictions, assaults and other human rights violations, as well as failed negotiations in relation to access to alternative lands for community resettlement, Benet filed suit against the government. A court order allowing Benet to access their traditional lands was never fully implemented and human rights violations against the community have continued with impunity.
Conflict over land and natural resources remains a defining feature of life in Uganda for minorities and indigenous peoples, particularly in certain areas such as the restless Rwenzori region in the west of the country. Outbreaks of violence in 2014, for instance, affected multiple communities in Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko districts: these areas are home to, among others, the pastoralist Basongora, and in recent years have witnessed renewed violence. These outbreaks have reignited long-standing conflicts over political power and land rights between pastoralists and agricultural communities in the region. The region is also experiencing rapid population growth which is contributing to the scarcity of available land and natural resources for the diverse communities that inhabit the area.
The events of 2014 have been repeated since then, for instance in 2016 when there were clashes between the Bamba-Babwisi and Bakonzo communities in the Rwenzori region. The violence left at least 33 dead, 10,000 displaced and 366 houses burnt. The first attacks broke out following the declaration of local council election results on 27 February, although many brushed them off as simply post-election violence. However, despite heavy police and military deployment, the killings continued, with victims including a 13-year-old in Kanyansiri village in Bundibugyo district. At the time, MRG emphasized that the two communities had long co-existed and intermarried. At a political level, what was missing was a genuine mediation process involving the Bakonzo under the Rwenzururu Kingdom and the Bamba cultural institution in order to secure a durable and peaceful co-existence.
Free, prior and informed consent in relation to mining in the Karamoja region continues to be a concern. In recent years, the extractive industry in Uganda has undergone significant growth, without attendant monitoring and regulation to ensure that the interests of communities are protected. This has exacerbated the difficulties experienced by the agro-pastoralist Karamajong people living in the region, including climate change, land rights issues and violent disarmament operations by government forces. There is evidence that local communities have seen little benefits from this develop: there were reports in 2018 that Karamoja land owners were frequently not receiving royalties that mining companies owed them.
Similar problems have emerged around the extraction of Uganda’s recently discovered oil reserves. Moves to begin exploiting oil reserves at Lake Albert fuelled tensions around the proposed distribution of the eventual proceeds from resource extraction: most of the drilling is set to take place in zones belonging to the Bunyoro Kingdom, and some of its members, as well as environmental activists, have demanded greater participation in the process and more transparency about the government’s agreements with oil companies. Indigenous Bugungu have called for the protection of their land rights including their sacred spaces from oil extraction activities. Further cause for worry amongst Bagungu communities is the government’s efforts since 2015 to amend Article 26 of the Uganda Constitution to strengthen compulsory ownership of land by the government before compensation where the acquisition is contested. The government subsequently decided on a set compensation rate that affected communities have been told to accept, and has generally opposed any efforts by civil society to mobilize around Bagungu land rights. Local communities continue to voice their concerns about the environmental impact of the project, and it has also at times been a source of intercommunal tension.
Uganda has embarked on an extensive process of policy development around land, housing and urban development, with a new National Land Policy approved in February 2013. The policy acknowledges the role that conflict, instability and rural poverty have played in driving urban migration, as well as the prevalence of slum dwellings in urban areas. It also recognizes the particular vulnerability of marginalized groups such as women, children, internally displaced persons (IDPs), ethnic minorities and pastoralists, committing the government to ‘ensure that both women and men, including children, enjoy equal rights and opportunities with regard to access to affordable urban services without discrimination’ and to ‘put in place measures to address the issues of internally displaced persons.’ It also commits the government, in its use and management of natural resources, to recognize and protect the right to ancestral lands of minority communities and pay prompt, adequate and fair compensation to groups displaced from their territories by government action. However, as policy development moves forward, the reality of such commitments will be seen in implementation.
Pastoralists make up a significant proportion of Uganda’s indigenous peoples, especially in the north-eastern region. Pastoralist communities such as Karamajong face significant challenges in protecting their rights to practice their culture and to promote their development. Protection of land rights and grazing corridors, so as to ensure the foundation of pastoralist culture, has been an ongoing struggle for pastoralists in Uganda. Despite the protective provisions of the 2013 National Land Policy, it did not mandate restitution of land that had previously been lost to indigenous communities, in effect leaving in place the status quo for pastoralist groups that had already lost access to land and grazing routes. Moreover, implementation of the provisions of the land policy has been slow, given the cost implications and political challenges associated with negotiating conflicting property rights.
Government policies to encourage pastoralist communities to become sedentary, despite their stated purpose of enhancing development in pastoralist regions, have also led to entrenchment of poverty and food insecurity. Disruption of pastoralist livelihoods over time and the forced adoption of subsistence farming in a semi-arid region have created recurrent cycles of drought-induced food shortages, without the resilience that livestock rearing would have provided. Karamoja faced another of these recurrent cycles in 2016, leading to more than half of the population needing food assistance. Although the government has encouraged the registration of communal land associations as provided for in the 2013 National Land Policy and the 1998 Land Act, little effort has been undertaken to establish how this will work out in Karamoja, given inter-clan conflicts focused around a history of cattle rustling and the traditional nomadic lifestyle and pastoralism of the Karamajong people.
The small Ik community, situated in the mountainous areas of north-eastern Uganda adjoining Karamajong, were for many years subjected to cattle rustling by armed groups before the frequency of these attacks reduced in recent years. However, there have been reports of renewed violence.
A gateway from Central Africa to the Horn of Africa, Uganda lies on the equator and borders the Democratic Republic of Congo in the west, Rwanda and Tanzania in the south, Kenya in the east, and Sudan in the north. Most of Uganda consists of fertile, wooded highland plateau, and has a tropical climate, but there are also swampy lowlands and a desert region. The country encompasses much of Lake Victoria in the south-east, as well as several other sizeable lakes.
Bantu peoples migrated to the area of today’s Uganda in around 500 BCE, and over the next thousand years developed four major kingdoms: Buganda, Bunyoro, Tooro and Ankole. In the late nineteenth century Uganda was a powerful magnet for missionaries, traders and later colonial authorities, lured by the fertility of the country and stimulated by Anglo-French and Arab-European rivalry. From 1894, the territory was a British protectorate, and a significant Indian population settled in Uganda. Missionary competition, initially focused on the most powerful Ugandan institution, the Baganda court, left a legacy of division between Roman Catholics and Protestants. In the south and west of Uganda the fertility of the land and the absence of wholesale expropriation for European settlement meant that the introduction of cash crops such as coffee and cotton, along with accompanying taxation and control, was less oppressive than in many parts of the continent. Economic development was heavily weighted towards the south, where missionary activity and educational opportunities were greater. The Baganda monarchy, despite its earlier resistance (followed by capitulation), was granted recognition and a degree of autonomy. The Baganda came to be widely seen as favoured by the British colonial authorities.
Northern and Eastern regions remained comparatively isolated and disadvantaged throughout the colonial period. Southerners comprised the majority of the civil service and of the educated and commercial elite. Later, however, northerners came to be recruited to colonial military and police forces, to which they were drawn by economic necessity and for which imperial ideology deemed them suitable for being taller as well as more ‘warlike’. This division into ‘warrior’ and ‘educated’ groups, reinforced by the policies of the later colonial period, increasingly became part of Ugandans’ own perceptions.
Politics in the run-up to independence in 1962 were contested by three main parties. Within the Buganda heartland Protestants loyal to the monarchy were generally in opposition to the largely Catholic Democratic Party (DP). Elsewhere Milton Obote’s United People’s Congress (UPC) was generally dominant. Although initially combining against the DP, the monarchists and the UPC soon fell out violently over the status of Buganda and the other southern kingdoms. In 1966 government troops bombed and shelled the king’s palace; hundreds were killed and the Kabaka fled into exile. Obote abolished the monarchy and later declared a one-party state, strongly repressing Bagandan monarchist and nationalist sentiment. Increasingly, the government came to be dominated by Obote’s fellow Luo-speakers (Acholi and Langi) as well as Teso, whilst the army commander Idi Amin (a Kakwa-speaking Nubi Muslim) recruited soldiers from his home region in the north-west, and increasingly from across the Sudanese border. In 1971 Amin mounted a successful coup, supported initially by most southerners as well as by the British and Americans opposed to Obote’s socialist policies.
In 1972 Amin’s wholesale expulsion of Ugandan Asians, a community of around 75,000, was only a foretaste of his growing ruthlessness. Extensive purges of both government and army, especially of those suspected of loyalty to the exiled Obote, continued. During Amin’s eight-year dictatorship between 100,000 and 500,000 Ugandans were killed. Economic collapse heaped further burdens on the country. The Tanzanian army, acting in support of the Ugandan National Liberation Front, deposed Amin in 1979. Obote’s UPC and the DP were once again the major parties in the 1980 elections, retaining their traditional ethnic and religious support bases. The UPC victory was widely regarded a fraudulent. Several guerrilla armies began to operate against the government – notably the National Resistance Army (NRA) of Yoweri Museveni in the west and south, as well as north-westerners loyal to Amin. Obote’s UPC government was dependent on the army, itself dominated by Acholi and Langi. Extension of army control to the far north-west was accompanied by widespread abuses as revenge was exacted on people considered sympathetic to Amin. Estimates of those killed range from 5,000 to 30,000, with over 200,000 refugees fleeing to Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1982 another wave of ethnic persecution began in the south-west, with around 100,000 Banyarwanda (Bahutu and Batutsi) as well as Bahima being forced out of their homes and fleeing to Rwanda or to refugee camps on the border. The operation was orchestrated by UPC activists and officials in co-ordination with the police. The causes are complex and relate not only to Banyarwanda support for the (essentially Catholic) Democratic Party but to competition for land and resentment against the traditionally dominant position of Batutsi and Bahima. Worse was to develop in the ‘Luwero triangle’, the rural heartland of central Uganda where anti-Obote feeling was widespread and where Museveni’s NRA guerrillas initially operated. The army implemented a policy of starving out the guerrillas and punishing those held to sympathize with them with massive reprisals against the civilian population. Estimates of those killed range from 100,000 to 500,000.
Though belated international pressure and the growing success of Museveni’s NRA played their part, Obote’s regime eventually collapsed from feuding between Langi and Acholi factions in the military. Acholi troops overran Kampala in July 1985, looting the city and forcing Obote into exile. Tito Okello became head of state. Six months later the NRA took over the city, installing Museveni as president. NRA discipline, generally much better than its rivals, deteriorated as attempts were made to pacify the north of the country where remnants of the Amin and Obote armies continued to operate.
In 1986 Alice Lakwena’s charismatic Holy Spirit Movement mounted an insurgency in the Acholi region which has continued in various guises ever since. Later the Lord’s Resistance Army developed from this and would terrorize Northern Uganda for more than two decades. Attempts were made, with limited success, to pacify the traditionally rebellious and, since 1979, heavily armed Karamojong. Other rebellions took place among the Iteso in the north-east (following which thousands of Bakenyi were expelled from the region by the NRA). The Allied Democratic Front rebels also came to occupy the Lake Albert gorge and later moved into the Rwenzori region. Bakonjo in the west struggled in the early years of the colonial administration, during Amin’s regime and later during the first UPC government. They subsequently formed the Rwenzururu rebellion, which provided the foundations for the present ethnic struggles in Kasese, Bundibugyo and Kabarole areas. Given that Rwenzori Region and Kasese in particular are heavily cosmopolitan areas, the establishment of cultural leadership in Kasese has exacerbated tensions in the area. Since the installation of the Bakonzo King, Basongora have also claimed unsuccessfully recognition of their King, while Bamba have also claimed and have been granted kingship under the Budingiya of Bwamba.
Nevertheless, under Museveni security and human rights improved by comparison with the preceding fifteen years. The ‘resistance committee system’, a ‘non-party’ regime controlled by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) but with an element of local democracy based on village councils, provided a degree of stability, if with considerable regional variation. Large numbers of refugees returned to the West Nile region from Sudan, joined later by others fleeing the Sudanese war.
By the 1990s, the economy, badly hit by the collapse of coffee prices, was showing signs of recovery. However, by then the AIDS pandemic was ravaging the country and burdening economic recovery. Uganda reacted late to the spread of AIDS, but President Museveni has since won broad international praise for aggressively tackling the disease through blunt public information campaigns, condom distribution and improved health services. Although by 2006 some 500,000 Ugandans were HIV positive, the infection prevalence had been cut by more than half since 1992.
In 1995, a new Constitution allowed political parties to come into existence, but not to pursue political activities. Uganda’s ‘no-party’ system increasingly became a one-party system, prolonged by referendum in 2000. The opposition boycotted the poll and turnout was low, but 90 per cent of those who voted favoured a continuation of the NRM system. Museveni was re-elected in 2001. But with opposition parties banned and Museveni’s campaign receiving the backing of state resources, including fawning state media coverage, observers questioned the election’s legitimacy. Most observers did conclude that Museveni likely would have won a fair election in any case.
In 2005, the NRM-dominated parliament amended the constitution to allow Museveni a third term in office. Following a 2004 ruling by Uganda’s Constitutional Court that faulted the ban on political party activity as inconsistent with the 1995 legalization of their existence, Museveni supported a 2005 referendum that returned the country to multi-party politics. But when opposition leader Kizza Besigye returned from exile in November 2005 to challenge Museveni in February 2006, he was promptly arrested on treason, rape, terrorism, and illegal possession of firearms. Museveni won 59 per cent of the February vote, but his image as a reformer and democrat was further tarnished.
Despite the comparative success that the Museveni government has achieved in stabilizing the country and improving human rights, the outrages of the Amin and Obote years in particular left a legacy of mistrust among many sections of Uganda’s population, notably between many northerners and the NRA. Uganda’s northern wars have been complicated by its involvement in neighbouring conflicts, including Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), particularly the latter, invaded by Uganda and Rwanda from the east with a mix of their own forces and sponsored local rebels. Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart Kagame argued that the invasion was necessary to secure their countries’ security. But their exploitation of DRC’s rich mineral resources gave ammunition to critics who accused them of harbouring ulterior motives. In December 2005, the International Court of Justice ordered Uganda to pay restitution to the DRC for the looting of resources and commission of human rights violations.
The Lord’s Resistance Army, emerged from the long history of conflict and marginalization in the north of the country, was responsible for extraordinary human rights abuses against thousands of civilians over two decades of brutal violence before it was pushed out of Northern Uganda in 2005. By then the conflict had forced an estimated 1.5 million people to leave their homes. In the ensuring years, the majority of Acholiland’s population – almost all of whom were uprooted by the war – had been able to return, though a significant proportion are still in a state of displacement and unable to return.
Museveni’s hold on power has remained strong. In February 2011 Ugandan’s incumbent he won 68 per cent of votes in the presidential election. Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s closest opponent, rejected the result, on the grounds of rampant election malpractices – a large number of voters were disenfranchised, harassed by police and bribed. In 2016, Museveni again won the elections with more than 60 per cent of the vote, marking more than 30 years of unbroken rule – making him the longest-serving ruler in Uganda’s history. In 2017 Museveni removed the age limit despite widespread resistance, including from within his own party. A court case launched by a Ugandan lawyer has challenged this action and is yet to be decided on. The removal of the age limit would mean that Museveni would be able to stand for election again in 2021.
Uganda’s population includes more than 56 distinct indigenous communities which are designated in the 1995 Constitution, with 9 other minority groups added to the revised 2005 Constitution. The Constitution identifies these groups as the ‘indigenous’ communities of Uganda that were present in the country as of 1926, but this is largely a provision for the purposes of establishing citizenship and not one for recognition of indigenous rights. Many of the communities listed in the Constitution also self-identify as indigenous peoples, including forest dwelling and pastoralist groups such as the Batwa, Basongora, Benet, Karamajong, and Tepeth among others. Uganda’s Constitution also specifies that the state will ensure fair representation of marginalized groups and also will pass laws to ensure affirmative action in favor of disadvantaged groups to redress historical imbalances.
Conflict and displacement has left many Ugandans, including communities such as Acholi, dispossessed of their land and in a limbo, unable to return to their homes. In February 2013 the Ugandan government adopted its new National Land Policy, one of the objectives of which is to strengthen customary land tenure systems throughout the country. At the same time, the Policy seeks to address the problem of traditions, customs and practices which discriminate against women in matters of access to, and use and ownership of land. However, it is evident that among communities such as Acholi who have been worst affected, strengthening the land tenure of the Acholi people as a whole will not necessarily strengthen it for all Acholi people as vulnerable groups within the community may still be sidelined: for example, widows who do not choose who will inherit land. Within customary tenure systems, there may be a range of protections for women’s property rights, but those protections depend on different factors from those that determine men’s land rights. It is therefore not the case that either customary tenure or progressive statutory law will ensure women’s property rights. If the Ugandan government is to succeed in meeting the relevant objectives of the National Land Policy – to protect customary land rights and women’s land rights – its interventions must look at where both formal and customary systems intersect.
Uganda’s Penal Code prohibits ‘promotion of sectarianism’ which can be interpreted as a prohibition of hate speech. According to section 41(1), a person engages in the prohibited action when that individual: ‘prints, publishes, makes or utters any statement or does any act which is likely to (a) degrade, revile or expose to hatred or contempt; (b) create alienation or despondency of; (c) raise discontent or disaffection among; or (d) promote, in any other way, feelings of ill will or hostility among or against, any group or body of persons on account of religion, tribe or ethnic or regional origin commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.’ However, Ugandan laws that could curb denigrating speech and other discriminatory practices are often in practice not being used to protect minority and indigenous rights. Uganda’s Penal Code prohibits ‘promotion of sectarianism’ which can be interpreted as a prohibition of hate speech.
Indigenous women are often doubly vulnerable, as their access to land and resources is frequently mediated through customary law, which depends on their communities retaining control over traditional territories. Often no one, male or female, has formal legal title to land or communal claim to land, and whole communities are forcibly displaced to make way for conservation or development projects. Certain communities, such as Batwa and Basongora, have been rendered virtually landless.
- Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI)
- Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC)
- Uganda Land Alliance
- The Mount Elgon Benet Indigenous Ogiek Group (MEBIO) – [email protected]
- The Coalition of Pastoralist Civil Society Organisations (COPACSO)
Updated June 2019
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